Top 10 tips for switched-on travellers

What are the latest travel gadgets? Where are the newest hotels and spas? Who's offering to expand our horizons? Mark Rowe has the answers
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The Independent Travel

1. Fresh beds for the night

The shores of Lake Geneva will be the setting for one of the grandest hotel openings this year - Rocco Forte's Le Richemond Hotel (roccofortehotels.com). Reopening in Geneva following a renovation overseen by his sister, Olga Polizzi, Le Richemond is the first hotel in which John Stefanidis, one of the world's leading interior designers, has devised the decor for every room. Rooms from £296 per night.

The Plaza hotel (fairmont.com) on New York's Fifth Avenue reopens in mid-2007 after a £185m refurbishment, including a stained-glass ceiling and a restored ballroom.

In Boston, a former 19th-century jail is being converted into the 300-room Liberty Boston Hotel (libertyhotel.com), which will open this summer, featuring river-view suites.

In Asia, Sofitel (sofitel.com) opens the Riverside Chiang Mai this month, a new boutique hotel designed with Lanna architectural principles, a traditional feng shui-based approach.

Rio will soon have the Fasano Hotel (fasano. com.br), whose stylish counterpart in São Paulo has won critical praise. The hotel, which was designed by Philippe Starck, overlooks Ipanema beach. Book through Journey Latin America (020-8747 8315; journeylatinamerica.com) for rooms from £119 per person.

A big UK hotel event takes place later this month when Malmaison Liverpool (0151-229 5000; malmaison.com) opens, offering doubles from £99 per night.

2. Expanding frontiers

Now recovering from civil war, Sierra Leone (visitsierraleone.org) is the subject of a guidebook currently being researched by Bradt (bradt-travelguides.com), while Undiscovered Destinations (0191-206 4038; undiscovered-destinations.com) will run its first tour to the country later this year, which it says will steer clear of post-disaster voyeur tourism. The beaches of the Atlantic coast promise to be a strong draw, along with the mountainous interior and wildlife-rich pockets of rainforest. There are also monuments of historical importance, such as Bunce Island, from where slaves were dispatched to America.

Russia's dramatic far east is being opened up by Explore! (0870-333 4001; explore.co.uk), which offers new trips that traverse Lake Baikal, the world's largest fresh-water lake. Activities include dog-sledding, snowmobiling and exploring hidden bays by "ice Hovercraft", known as Nomads, specially adapted vessels that can nudge through the ice to remote bays.

Less off the beaten track, but curiously little visited by British tourists, is the Langhe region of Piedmont in Italy, home of the Barolo and Barbaresco vineyards and offering vines, olives, sunflowers, Savoy castles and superb regional cuisine. Headwater (01606 720033; headwater.com) is offering independent walking holidays in the region for the first time.

3. A little local knowledge

You can't beat local knowledge in far-flung destinations, the subject of a new website that offers an introduction to local fixers, in what could be described as an informal concierge service for independent travellers. The website, your safeplanet.co.uk, offers links to local people with in-depth knowledge in the capitals of 20 countries, including Cuba, Cambodia, Thailand and South Africa. For a fee of £60 for the first country, and £45 for subsequent ones, travellers can pick the thoughts of trusted locals on hotels, sights of interest and travel by email in advance of a trip. They can also meet up with their helper when they reach their destination, and the fixer can provide further contacts in the country away from the capital. To help the fixers to provide the best advice, travellers are asked to fill in a profile form about their preferred tastes and interests. The scheme is designed to operate along the lines of sustainable tourism and about £28 of the fee goes directly to the local helper.

4. Easier ways to travel

A new hotel format will this year seek to replicate the experience of an airline business cabin on the ground. Yotel (yotel.com) will open two hotels at Heathrow and Gatwick this spring, in a development of the Japanese capsule hotel. The "cabins" are 10 square metres and feature double beds with bedding, monsoon shower, TV and Wi-fi access, menu and web booking facilities. Cabins will be bookable in blocks of four hours for £25.

In Scotland, a new concept promoting luxurious products has been launched under the brand of Luxury Edinburgh (luxuryedinburgh.com), offering local advice on how to enjoy a luxurious visit to the city. Services include after-hours shopping at Harvey Nichols, tours of galleries and advice on the city's hotels and restaurants.

Private plane charters have become commonplace, but an equivalent train service is now increasingly available. The Train Chartering Company (01293 783347; trainchartering. com) has opened bookings for a private rail carriage that is attached to the back of an Amtrak train for the journey between New York and Chicago. The price for up to 10 people is about £9,000 including meals and butler service.

5. Catch the latest air route

New in the skies for 2007, Virgin Atlantic Airways (0870-380 2007; virgin-atlantic.com) will launch a daily service between Heathrow and Nairobi from 1 June, using an Airbus A340-300. Virgin Atlantic Airways will also start flights to Mauritius in November. In February, Ryanair (0871-246 000; ryanair.com) opens new routes from East Midlands to Alghero in Sardinia, and from Bristol to Barcelona. In March it launches routes from Stansted to the German Hanseatic port of Bremen and three flights a week to Deauville in Normandy and Newcastle to Barcelona. British Airways (0870-850 9850; ba.com) starts daily flights in March to Dresden and three flights a week to Sarajevo and Port-of-Spain, the capital of Trinidad, from Gatwick. Meanwhile, EasyJet (0905-821 0905 ; easyjet.com) will open new routes from Gatwick to Pisa and Palermo.

6. Unwind at a new spa

The Princess d'Annam Resort & Spa (princessannam.com/index.php), due to open in March, will be Vietnam's first all-villa luxury boutique resort, located opposite an historic French lighthouse on Ke Ga Bay.

In Madeira, a new spa opens this month at the beautifully landscaped Quinta Splendida manor house hotel (quintas-madeira. com). It will feature a vitality pool, indoor pool and 10 treatment rooms, along with a Turkish steam and mud baths.

Meanwhile, in:spa (0845-458 0723; inspa.co.uk) will add the Ksar Massa hotel in Sidi R'bat in Morocco to its small portfolio of retreats, beginning at Easter (4-11 April).

To the north of the Oman capital, Muscat, Evason Hideaway and Six Senses Spa (evason hideaway.com) will open a property at Zighy Bay in April. Located on a headland on the northern Musandam Peninsula, the retreat features two Arabian hammams.

In Venice, the five-star Bauer Palladio Hotel (bauerhotels.com) will open its Daniela Steiner spa in March. The building on the Grand Canal, formerly a convent, will retain many of the original features. It will have eight treatment rooms.

7. Emerging destinations

The combination of warm hospitality, wonderful beaches and fascinating sights will make Turkey one of the most popular destinations for Britons. Istanbul, the Black Sea and Cappadocia are major draws, but other regions are now embracing tourism. Exclusive Escapes (020-8605 3500; exclusive escapes.co.uk) will start a mid-week flight to Dalaman on the Lycian Coast aimed at the short-break market. The Datca peninsula is unexplored, but new roads are opening up the area to visitors.

Turkey's neighbour Bulgaria, along with Romania, joined the EU last week, and membership will boost funding for tourism and increase interest in both countries. Bulgaria's capital, Sofia, is a low-slung city, with a café society and some excellent museums, but the hinterland of mountains and remote monasteries make for one of the wildest landscapes in Europe. In Romania, the 12th-century Transylvanian town of Sibiu is this year's European City of Culture.

8. Cultural diversions

Architecture fans should head to Chicago for a rare chance for a close-up look at the designs of Frank Lloyd Wright. A group called Wright Plus 2007 (gochicago.com) has arranged for the interiors of eight private residences and two landmark buildings designed by Wright to be opened to the public for one day only, 19 May.

Later in the year, the National Slavery Museum (usnationalslavery museum.com) is due to open in Fredericksburg, Virginia, with permanent galleries recounting the history of the trade. The museum is at a location in the city close to where slaves were first landed.

In Egypt, work on the £300m Great Egyptian Museum is expected to gather pace this year in the shadow of the pyramids at Giza. Due to open by 2010, the museum will exhibit 100,000 artefacts.

In China, the country's National Museum (china museums.com) in the capital, Beijing, will reopen this year following a major renovation.

9. The best in-flight gadgets

Emirates (emirates.com) continues to roll out its in-flight entertainment programme of 600 on-demand channels, and will also become the first airline to enable passengers to use their mobile phones on board. Aware that some passengers may consider this a dubious distinction, the airline will allow calls on only a limited number of channels, so that no more than five people can use their phones at any one time. From the middle of 2007, Emirates will be the first airline to introduce iPod seat connections. Boeing is developing ways to control aircraft lighting to create a sense of space and well-being. Air New Zealand and Lufthansa are among airlines adopting them.

10. The best new guide book

A new guide to Johannesburg by Bradt (01753 893444; bradt-travel guides. com) aims to give the city a more positive image. The guide describes the city in its cultural and historical contexts, highlighting museums, markets and its multiracial café society. Bradt will also be issuing a new guide to Bosnia and Herzegovina. Lonely Planet (020-7841 9000; lonelyplanet.com) is publishing a first edition of a guide to Africa, along with Honduras and the Bay Islands this month and to Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Islands in April. Rough Guides (020-7010 3000; roughguides.com) is 25 years old this year and will celebrate with the publication of World Party: The Rough Guide to the World's Best Festivals in June. New Insight Guides (020-7403 0284; insightguides.com) for 2007 will appear on Bulgaria in May and Romania in June.

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